Dessy Di Lauro & the rise of neo-ragtime
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Sep 30, 2015 | 7396 views | 0 0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Taylor Ballantyne
Taylor Ballantyne
What do you get when you combine jazz, hip hop and ragtime? Neo-ragtime, led by its queen, Dessy Di Lauro. Her songs, with bouncy jazz tunes and universal contemporary lyrics, have introduced a modern spin on ragtime to a new generation of music lovers.

Originally from Montreal and currently based in Los Angeles, Di Lauro will be performing at the BRIC JazzFest on Thursday, October 15 at 9:20 p.m. As part of the festival, Di Lauro will be singing songs from the recently released EP, Say Hep Hep, which her husband Ric’key Pageot, produced.

I spoke with the singer about neo-ragtime, her upcoming performances and being compared to some of music’s finest.

So explain to me what exactly neo-ragtime is. You and your husband have seemed to specifically weld this genre together.

We describe neo-ragtime as ‘a feathered fro-hawk futuristic art deco-centric Harlem Renaissance hep.’ It’s like the 1930s meets today’s contemporary R&B, soul, hip hop and jazz.

We’ve been doing this since 2011. When we first started, it just sort of happened. These are my influences. My parents were vinyl collectors so I grew up with cool old stuff that they played in the house.

Ric’key happened to be playing classical music one day and I told him, ‘try playing that on the piano with a kind of ragtime feel.’ From then on, that was it. It’s been something within me for the longest time. We all grow at some point, and wake up, and I guess that was my moment of clarity of what I had to do in my life.

So many people think of famous pop stars or rappers when they think of getting into the music business. Do you find it a challenge at all to compete with other genres in terms of getting your music out there?

It’s so funny but competing with other genres, no. We can’t really compare our thing. It really stands alone. We’re not one thing, we’re a few things, which makes it its own thing. I never worry about the other genres because what we’re doing is completely on its own.

But, the hardships of music are real. The grind is real. Standing above the rest, that’s a really tough thing because we’re in the do-it-yourself age in the music industry. You’re on your own; you’ve got to do your own promotion, be your own manager and be your own record label. It’s really difficult. We’re actually getting some traction now but it’s taken a lot of sacrifice.

It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve been twelve hundred percent dedicated. You really got to believe in yourself and what your’e doing in order to stick it out.

Perez Hilton describes your music as a “2015 Blu Cantrell meets Postmodern jukebox.” Who are some artists that are similar to your music style?

When Blu Cantrell’s song Hit ‘Em Up Style came out, it really struck me. It was something that I could totally relate to. When the song came out, it moved me.

I think my thing is different, but a lot of people tell me that I sound like Blu Cantrell. I’ve even got compared to Amy Winehouse and Janelle Monae. Probably not stylistically, it’s just that each one of these women have their own distinctive style and their own sound. It’s a huge compliment for me.

And a lot of these women also sing about female empowerment.

Absolutely. In my album, I like to keep things positive but also have a depth to it where we can talk about other stuff.

I’m at a good place in my life. I’m happy. There’s not enough of it when you’re exposed and being at the forefront of the music industry. There’s also something in making people feel good that makes me feel good. I like to write positive songs. But I also have songs about anti-bullying and being cheated on. There’s a whole variety and these are things that we all go through. There’s something to be felt for everyone.

Have you noticed that your audience is older, younger or a mix of the two?

I would say it’s cross-generational. When we look out at our shows, we see ages 18 to 65. It’s a wide variety. It’s impressive because the older people can relate to the sound somewhat. The younger people are trying to latch onto something new and fresh that they haven’t heard of. It’s always amazing to me to see the varying ages. When people like stuff, there’s no age limit for it.

You performed during New York Fashion Week (NYFW), how did it go?

Well, it was a nod to NYFW. We did a performance and we had a celebrity designer, Nonja McKenzie, who showed her Spring/Summer 2016 Collection.

We wanted to do something different and have the fashion aspect seeing that it was fashion week. We had this amazing designer accompany us for the night and who put on this amazing event. We never did anything like this before but it goes hand-in-hand. And she’s amazing. It was special.

You will be heading to London on November 30 for your first performance in the UK. Excited?

Yes. We’ve wanted to book shows in London for a long time but we’ve had to keep building momentum until finally reaching this moment. Now, the neo-ragtime movement is growing. It’s a long time coming.

London is a lot like New York. They have a very eclectic group of artists in the UK, and especially in London, so I’d like to check out a lot of shows when I’m out there. They’re really open to a lot of unique musical styles and sounds.

Dessy and her band will perform in the Ballroom of the BRIC Media House at 647 Fulton St. in Brooklyn at 9:20pm. The Jazz Fest is a part of the CMJ Music Marathon 2015. For details:
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